Thursday, February 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin

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Today is the international celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential individuals in the history of science.

Why you ask?

In my mind it is all about time and rates of change over time.

We all know that he published On the Origin of the Species in 1859.  The publication of that book set the world's scientific thought on fire.  Today the focus of the book is on one important aspect of the book--evolution.  Yet, in my mind, the undercurrent of the transformative book is time.

Up until 1859, many looked at the Earth as a complete place--unchanged forever since creation.  There was little understanding of the changes that could take place on the surface of the Earth--much less in individual species.  Indeed, there was little understanding of earth surface processes such as glaciation, sediment transport, coastal change, plate tectonics, etc.

But after Origin of the Species, geologists and other Earth scientists started to look at the evolution of the Earth much more closely.  While other contemporary scientists in the 19th century fully understood that the earth evolved with time, there was not broad acceptance of this concept.

Today, the idea of earth's evolution is widely accepted.  In fact, we now understand that our planetary history is closely linked with the evolution of life on Earth.  From the formation of Precambrian banded iron formations to the continued evolution of our atmosphere, it is now abundantly clear that the Earth evolves as life itself evolves.

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